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Pastoral Lessons from My Betters, Part 3

Benjamin B. Warfield once said that the Reformation “inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the Church.”[1] Warfield, as he was wont to do, vividly described the tension in Augustine’s thinking as “two children . . . struggling in the womb of his mind.” As a result, both Roman Catholics and Protestants often appeal to him as their founder. I bring this up because Gregory I (b. 540), known to history as Gregory the Great, raised Augustine’s two children in the sixth century.

Gregory was a disciple of Augustine’s theology. He taught that human beings were born sinful and that Christ alone by His sovereign grace can rescue sinners.[2] But with equal vigor he taught that this salvation comes through baptism.[3] In fact, what Warfield said of Augustine might well be reversed with regard to Gregory. Because of Gregory’s teaching that communion had the power to wash away sins, the confirmation of purgatory, and the celebration of communion for the dead[4] one might well say that in the mind of Gregory, Augustine’s doctrine of the Church triumphed over Augustine’s doctrine of grace.

However, despite these intractable errors Gregory did leave us with something positive. In 590, Gregory, who had been living in St. Andrew’s Monastery at Rome, was called by clergy and people to be the bishop of Rome.[5] Like Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom before him he too declined the role to which he had been called. After a bishop chided him for his reluctance to take the office he wrote, Regula Pastoralis, or, what is now called, Pastoral Care.

What many may not know is that Pastoral Care became a staple of the pastoral ministry for several hundred years. No less than Alcuin wrote to Eanbald, the archbishop of York, in 796 saying,

Wherever you go, let the pastoral book of St. Gregory be your companion. Read and re-read it often, that in it you may learn to know yourself and your work, that you may have before your eyes how you ought to live and teach. The book is a mirror of the life of a bishop and a medicine for all the wounds inflicted by the Devil’s deception.[6]

Gregory certainly had wounds. He once wrote that his pastoral duties now forced him to deal with “worldly men” which defiled his mind “with the mud of daily affairs,” which, he said, left him with “manifestly less strength than before.”[7] The before refers to his monastic life. Yet, the point is simple, this is a pastoral book written by a pastor for pastors.

Gregory divided Pastoral Care into four sections. The first section discusses the difficulties of the pastoral office and the responsibilities that will be laid upon the pastor. The second part takes up various aspects of the minister’s life. The third section focuses on the exercise of the pastoral office in the life of the congregation. And the fourth section, though brief, encourages the pastor to be humble after he has completed his work. This section is four pages and packs a wallop.

The book is useful, especially the third section, which is laden with Scripture and directed at how to admonish everyone and anyone in the church! Thirty-five of its forty sections begin with the phrase “How to admonish.” Here Gregory deals with the poor and rich, the sincere and insincere, the taciturn and talkative, the obstinate and fickle, the gluttonous and abstemious, and on and on and on. Section three might be described as a primitive primer on Biblical Counseling!

I have already mentioned the single most reason that I find this book useful. It is loaded with Scriptural applications for the muddy affairs of life. For that reason alone this man, who is my pastoral better, teaches me how to be a better pastor. He teaches me and shows me how to use Scripture as a pastor. Yes, there are times when Gregory’s interpretation of those Scriptures looks more like what I like least about the Medieval Church but, then again, he was not standing on the shoulders of the giants who came after him. It is true that he had Augustine. But unlike Luther and Calvin, Gregory never knew which of Augustine’s children was Jacob and which one was Esau.


[1] Benjamin B. Warfield, Studies in Tertullian and Augustine, vol. IV, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 130.

[2] N. R. Needham, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power: Part One: The Age of the Early Church Fathers (London, England: Grace Publications Trust, 1998), 300.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 300–301.

[5] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care (New York, NY: Newman Press, 1978), 3.

[6] Ibid., 10-11.

[7] Needham, 298–299.


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